Movie reviews, many love to read them, and many more write them. These days, it seems like everyone is a movie critic, posting their reviews on all sorts of different websites from IMDB to Amazon to MoviePulse.net to even Associated Content. Everyone has an opinion, and everybody deserves to be heard. But what makes one critic stand out from all the others? Everyone interested in film criticism aspires to be the next Roger Ebert or maybe even the next Pauline Kael. So the question comes to this, what does it take to be a memorable movie critic, let alone a great one? With this article, I will go into what I feel it takes to be a truly memorable film critic, and of how to stand out over so many others.
Each of the best film critics and most well known have their own distinctive style. Pauline Kael is probably the first one to reach a high level of prominence in film criticism with her strong opinions on what she saw, and she was not easy to please. This later led to others like Chicago Sun Times critic Roger Ebert who became the first film reviewer to win the Pulitzer Prize for film criticism. Year after year, his reviews show a strong perspective of the films he views, and he has his own unique viewpoint that is made all the more vivid in his writing and in his love for movies in general. Then you have a critic like Peter Travers from Rolling Stone magazine who is brilliant at cutting through a lot of bull that Hollywood studios throw at us that they belligerently believe passes for actual entertainment. More recently, you have newer critics like James Berardinelli whose website at www.reelviews.net has become one of the most popular movie sites to visit on the internet. While Berardinelli’s reviews owe a bit to the style of Roger Ebert, he takes that style and makes it all his own. These are some of the top critics in film today, and they are the first ones that people rush to if and when they want to know about movies coming out.
The secret of standing out in a crowded field of film critics comes down to the universal fact of our existence. Whatever you do or whoever you are, there is only one of you in the entire universe. There’s no real way of pointing this out without sounding corny, but that’s the inevitable truth. This is something we should appreciate in life, and that’s even if you are a teenager who wishes they were somebody other than themselves (you couldn’t pay me to go back to those years). Our perceptions are unique, and everything you see is filtered through how you see it. We may try or want to be someone else in our lives, but to conform to someone’s expectations of who we should be can be deadly. In the end, it is better to be yourself and have your own voice, and this is what will inform your writing.
Another key thing is to take in all that you see around you in the movie theater, or wherever you watch the movie, because it will inform the movie going experience as a whole. Your enjoyment may be affected by what is going on around you. Is the floor sticky? Are the seats comfortable? or they like those uncomfortable school chairs your parents made you sit in during grade school? What’s the crowd like around you? Are they all young teenagers who won’t shut up or keep their cell phones silent during a movie? Is it full of older people and married couples who keep repeating what was just said on screen to each other? Did a fight break out during the screening? Did the film break? The more you get into these specifics, the more vivid the experience will be for the readers who read your reviews. Your time at the movies will be all the more memorable as you get more specific on not just the movie, but the environment around you. Make your reader feel like they are watching the movie right next to you.
Don’t get caught up too much in a synopsis of the plot or what goes on in a movie. Try to keep it brief and not give anything away because it’s bad enough that movie trailers tend to spoil the best scenes and give you an idea of how the movie may end. However, if you do feel the need to talk about key plot points or give things away, please be sure to warn people ahead of time so that the experience is not ruined for them. People still do this a lot, and it drives me insane as I’m sure it does you. Just do a quick run through of what the movie is about, and then go into what you liked or vehemently despised about it.
Also, don’t feel the need to use big words when describing things, because it will reek of you trying too hard to be brilliant. The more highbrow you try to be, the more likely you are to alienate your potential audience. This reminds me of a line from “The Cosby Show” when Rudy and her friend Caroline are taking a look at the college paper Theo is writing. Caroline’s father turns out to be an editor at a newspaper, and he always tells the writers:
“Keep it simple. Only people with small minds use big words.”
The other things that will really help you is to never act like a snob in your reviews, and act like your word is the end all of the movie you are reviewing. If you aspire to be Rex Reed who gives a negative review to a movie just because you don’t like the way the characters are acting or of what they are doing, then you are doing a lousy job of being objective. Also, try not to get your own politics (be it if you are a Democrat or a Republican or an Independent) get in the way of your review. If you are going to be completely biased against a movie like your Michael Medved, then you will be utterly useless as a reviewer of anything. Just because a movie does not fit what you believe in does not mean it is necessarily not worth watching. Maybe it is still a well made movie that will play to a specific kind of audience.
One very important thing to be aware of also is to not judge all the movies on the same basis. Some movies are made to be enjoyed, others to be experienced, and others to be intellectually stimulating. It doesn’t make any sense to try and compare Eddie Murphy’s newest movie “Meet Dave” to “Lawrence of Arabia” because they are two different types of movies. You can’t go into every movie you see as though you were obligated to compare it to the classics of the past. Judge the movie for what it is, and not what you want it to be. People gave Roger Ebert a lot of grief when he gave thumbs down to Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket,” but ended up giving thumbs up to “Benji the Hunted.” This is ridiculous! While I can’t agree with Ebert on “Full Metal Jacket,” comparing it to a movie like “Benji the Hunted” is so stupid. Benji is not out in Vietnam becoming a killer. Take the movie in for what it is trying to be, and not what you think it should be. If you think movies should be a certain way, then go out and make your own!
And there is one thing that I think will help you not just as a reviewer, but as a fan of movies: don’t ever come into a film with high expectations, ever! High expectations generate a level of excitement that can never be met. This was the case this summer with movies like the new Indiana Jones movie which everyone had been waiting for almost 20 years. The mixed reaction from audiences in general was to be expected. I for one enjoyed the film, but I can see why others did not. The whole hype machine for movies makes the anticipation of a movie much more exciting than the movie itself, and it is designed to give a movie a huge opening weekend at the box office. Movies live and die on how well they do when they first open, so stirring up emotions of the common moviegoer generates an overly large excitement that will have the audience rushing in to the very first screening of a movie that is opening on over 3,000 screens.
So, those are some of my ideas on how to become a memorable movie critic anywhere you post your reviews. Be it MySpace, Facebook, or even Associated Content, there has never been a better time to make your voice heard and pass on what you write to a larger audience than you ever expected to have. Everyone may be a film critic, but no one will ever be a film critic like you.